What type of artist do you see yourself as? Do you see your work as a coherent body of work, developing in a particular direction?
I cover a broad range of subject matter; landscape, interiors, still-life, portraiture and life painting, all in a representational idiom. My central interest is the human figure.My approach to each of the genres in which I operate is one of flexibility; developments in any one area are unlikely to influence my activity in another. This may seem rather schizophrenic, but exhibition audiences appear to discern an overall coherence to the body of work as a whole.
It seems to me that light plays an important part in your work. Would you say that wanting to capture the qualities of light is one of your inspirations?
As a student, I concentrated on the problems of defining the form and structure of objects, to the exclusion of painting anything remotely ethereal. Only gradually [initially through drawing practice, utilizing contre-jour and chiaroscuro lighting set-ups], did I realize that light effects could make my task easier.
Light has become particularly important as a result of a career working as a scenic artist in the film and television industry, where paint and light is thoroughly integrated in the studio to produce the required result. I am now using this experience to inform my own painting; coloured, high-contrast and directional light is now used to heighten the theatricality of these compositions.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Direct observation provides the core of all my work. On this I build my projects with random observations from everyday situations, combined with salient memories of past experiences. For example, the central figure of “Giant” was painted from life studies, and the onlookers from a sketch of visitors in the Prado museum; but the theme derives from a powerful image from my childhood. My father and I were walking along a stretch of Lincolnshire beach on one of those hazy mornings where the pearlescent expanse of wet sand at low-tide blends seamlessly into watery sky. There were several dark, glossy forms in the distance. As we advanced, these forms revealed themselves as a stranded pod of Pilot Whales. To a land-locked five year old, they looked utterly colossal.
What sorts of things are you looking at and thinking about when you are making your work?
Formal considerations predominate during the making: shape, contour and line; chromatic intensity and hue.
Do you work entirely from life, or do you ever use photographs to complete your work?
My core activity remains life work; drawn or painted entirely from the model. Only recently have I been confident enough to supplement observational work with photographic imagery to produce the larger multi-figure compositions. After nearly thirty years, I now have the experience of anatomy to compensate for those ‘flat’ areas bereft of structure in a photograph. The real breakthrough for me has been the ability to compose paintings using the “Photoshop” programme on a Mac. I am able to re-size figures from several sources [drawing, painting studies, sketchbook, photographs] and combine them to scale in a convincing space. Though the final painting may depart significantly from these studies, they give me a vital starting point.
Your work seems meticulously painted. Do you usually do an acrylic underpainting for your oil painted work? How long, on average, does it take to complete a piece?
Only certain areas are meticulously painted; I am particularly interested in the juxtaposition of thick impasto with thin glazing; careful multi-layering alongside cursory thin layers; broken colour techniques beside flat areas. I feel this gives the painting a greater surface interest at close quarters.
I tend to use acrylics for the preliminary layers of painting simply because they dry so quickly. Thereafter, I switch to oils which provide unmatched versatility and subtlety of handling.
It is difficult to calculate time taken on the studio compositions; it depends on size, complexity of pose, and arrangement of light. Because I tend to have several paintings on the go at any one time, there is always at least one work at a stage dry enough to take another layer of paint. A painting may have been worked over a period of months [sometimes years], though the actual time devoted to its surface may be measured in days or weeks.
The smaller landscape panels, [generally no larger than 18” in either dimension] are painted on site using acrylic and these usually take no longer than 3-4 hours.
Who or what are your main influences?
As regards drawing, my main guides have been Degas and Schiele, though much earlier, the impetus to sketch came from my childhood enthusiasm for American Super-Hero comics. These generally displayed little aesthetic merit, until the later 1960’s when an artist called Neal Adams began work on several titles [Batman, Spectre, Green Arrow]. He obviously used models to achieve his foreshortenings, and the unusual viewpoints he chose, effected a new realism in this genre. He is well worth an image search on Google.
My big three painters who helped me through three stultifying years at art college were :Cezanne; for his pictorial organizationEuan Uglow; who showed me what a life painting might look like before the more closely observed subtleties of surface detail are layered over a structural scaffolding.Vermeer; cool and analytical; a perfect integration of figure and environment; forms and planes modeled using light effects of remarkable sophistication, yet with an ability to downplay his virtuosity which I think makes him more appealing to a modern audience than his more artistically bombastic contemporaries.
Are you a performer yourself?
No; I prefer the role of director which painting gives me. In fact, I have begun to investigate film-making as a medium to develop some of the themes which recent work has revealed, but which may require a time-based treatment. Earlier this year as part of the Fishguard ArtsFest, I presented a short film entitled “Blacksites”; provoked by the use of abduction and psychological torture techniques, used by Western Governments in our name. I am currently working on a film and series of paintings [working title; “Box”], which combine the imagery of escapology with issues of human trafficking. In this project, I am artist, film-maker and model. Does that count?
June 2007: “Sleight of Hand” Oriel Cambria, Tregaron